Fourth-generation Oklahoman Stephanie Bice holds a rare office: She is one of only six women in the state’s 48-member Senate. Serving as a Republican from Senate District 22, the OSU-educated small-business owner seeks to modernize Oklahoma’s archaic liquor laws as a way to encourage the growth of other small businesses. She recently answered questions via email about those efforts and her choices for a hypothetical last meal. Her answers have been lightly edited for style and grammar.
What motivated you to run for public office?
I decided to run for office after being approached by my predecessor, who was not seeking re-election. He knew my small-business background and felt my experiences and interest in politics would be a perfect fit. I had never really considered public service, but the timing was right and I knew I wanted to make a difference for future Oklahoma generations.
You won a hotly contested GOP primary and runoff in 2014. What do you feel were the difference-making factors in your victory that separated you from your opponents?
I put in a lot of long hours knocking doors and getting to know constituents, which I think paid off. There’s a saying, “Nothing worth having comes easy,” and I knew if I wanted to win I would have to work harder and smarter than my opponent.
During your campaign, were there obstacles and advantages to being a female candidate? One more than another?
Absolutely. The biggest obstacle I had was not feeling comfortable knocking doors alone. I needed to have someone with me for safety reasons when I was campaigning. Fortunately, I had dozens of volunteers who were willing to drive me around day or evening to make sure I was meeting as many people as possible.
You have been a strong advocate for modernizing Oklahoma’s liquor laws since arriving in the Oklahoma Senate. Tell our readers about your legislative proposals and why you introduced them.
My original proposal, Senate Bill 383, would have allowed for the refrigeration of full-strength beer in liquor stores. Seemed simple enough, until I started getting emails from Oklahomans asking for more. They wanted wine in grocery stores as well as to do away with our archaic 3.2 beer mandate (Oklahoma is one of only five states left mandating non-intoxicating or low-point beer; others include Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Minnesota.) With the explosive growth of locally made craft beer (most of which is only allowed in liquor stores because of the alcohol content), I felt Oklahoma was behind the curve in supporting local businesses and opening up the marketplace; allowing them to sell in significantly more locations would give them and others the opportunity to grow.
Have there been any surprises for you as you have worked to get this legislation enacted?
Too many to list here. The biggest surprise is learning most of our alcohol laws are constitutional and date back to the repeal of prohibition. Because of this, we must put the changes to a vote of the people, and we plan to do so in the November 2016 election.
Much has been made about the small number of women serving in the Oklahoma legislature. Have you been able to see ways firsthand that having more female policy makers helps improve the laws being sent to the Governor’s office?
I’m disheartened to see so few women running for public office, especially being the mother of two daughters myself. As of the most recent special election, Oklahoma is 47th in the nation for the number of women serving in the legislature. In the Senate, females number just six out of 48.
I believe the benefit women bring to the legislature is offering a different perspective than men. We view things through a different lens, maybe offering a more balanced approach.
The political climate doesn’t appear to be one nationally or locally that encourages bi-partisanship. Do you find this to be the case? If so, is it an issue with the choices that politicians are making, or does it have more to do with voter sentiment? Or is there another factor making bi-partisanship less prevalent?
I think voter sentiment and the media make it impossible for some politicians to work across party lines. Politicians are scrutinized by the media for every decision. Politics has become polarizing for both parties, and we have forgotten the end result is the most important goal, which requires both sides to negotiate and compromise. I think the art of compromise has been lost by many. Some serving in politics have the “my way or the highway” mentality, which does nobody any good.
You are nearing the halfway point of your first term in office. Do you have any advice for people considering running for elected office?
Be ready to work hard. Run for the right reasons. Pour your heart and soul into it. It is one of the most grueling but rewarding things you will ever do. Even if you don’t win, you join an elite group of people who know what it’s like to see their name on a ballot and have put in the sweat equity to run.
At what OKC-area restaurant would you have your last meal? And to borrow a question from the recent GOP presidential debate, what woman should appear on the $10 bill?
Last meal: That’s a tough one! There are SO many amazing restaurants in OK, it’s hard to choose. How about a top three? Hamburger and fries from Nic’s, bacon mushroom risotto from Signature Grill (yes, in my mind that IS a meal in itself) or paella from The Drake. And don’t forget dessert: salted caramel ice cream from Roxy’s or Key lime pie from Pie Junkie!
What woman should appear on the $10 bill? Why do we need to change it? It’s just a symbolic gesture. I don’t really see the need.